Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Geneva, Switzerland
Address: Chemin des Fins 2, Case Postale 102, 1211 Geneva 19 - Telephone: 022 799 9100 - Fax: 022 799 9178

Conference on Disarmament

Statement by Mr Paul Wilson

Australian Deputy Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament

31 May 2012

Mr President,

As this is Australia’s first intervention under your Presidency of the Conference, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your assumption of the Presidency and to assure you of Australia’s support in your work and your efforts.

Mr President,

It is a matter of longstanding record that Australia supports the immediate commencement of negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in accordance with the report of the Special Coordinator of 1995 (CD/1299) and the mandate contained therein.

Since 2010, Australia has circulated in the Conference documents CD/1895, CD/1896, CD/1906, CD/1909 and CD/1919. All demonstrate Australia’s substantive and practical support for this proposed instrument, an instrument whose origins date back to 1946 and which paragraph 50 of the Final Document of SSOD I cited as one of the agreements whose urgent negotiation at appropriate stages and with adequate verification measures was required to achieve nuclear disarmament.

I will not seek to summarise the views contained in the various documents Australia has recently circulated in the Conference on this issue. However, I would like to take this opportunity to make some observations.

First, I want to join others in thanking Germany and the Netherlands for hosting in Geneva over the last two days a scientific experts meeting on technical issues related to a future treaty. Australia was pleased to support this meeting through the attendance of a capital-based expert and looks forward to the next such meeting in August.

For Australia, the scientific experts meeting underlined that effective verification of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices will be a complex technical task. However, the practical experience of existing safeguards and also of States which have decommissioned fissile material production facilities or converted them to civilian use show that it is indeed achievable.

We were also struck by those at the meeting who argued that the process of establishing a treaty regime would be made easier by more transparency now from the nuclear-weapon States and from other States with nuclear weapons. Underlining our strong advocacy of increasing transparency of information related to nuclear weapons, including in respect of fissile material, Australia and our NPDI partners submitted a working paper NPT/CONF.2015/PC.I/WP.12 to the recent NPT PrepCom in Vienna with a detailed and practical proposal in this regard.

Secondly, Mr President, and more generally, I would like to restate why a treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices remains important to Australia.

Such a treaty has the potential to deliver substantial security benefits, furthering the twin goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. By capping the amount of fissile material available for weapons use, such a treaty would be an utterly essential step towards irreversible nuclear disarmament. It would also further tighten controls on fissile material. And by imposing a quantitative limit on the amount of fissile material available for weapons use, it would complement the CTBT, which impedes development of nuclear weapons.

In addition to other confidence-building measures in the field of nuclear disarmament, a global moratorium on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices would be a significant step in the right direction and Australia continues to call for it. But irreversibility, verifiability and transparency ultimately require a treaty.

Mr President,

The polemics which have surrounded this proposed treaty are a source of considerable regret. No Member State of the Conference genuinely espousing the twin goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation has questioned the necessity of controlling fissile material for weapons purposes.

In this regard, it is important to emphasise that Australia does not consider a treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices to be an end in itself. After the conclusion and entry into force of the treaty, the work to achieve a world without nuclear weapons will continue.

I would also like to emphasise that Australia does not believe that the issue of past production of fissile material, which is a legitimate question, should be an impediment to negotiations. Indeed, it is regrettable that there has been a narrative that that issue is the impediment to negotiations. Australia has not subscribed to this narrative.

Australia remains of the view that the Shannon Mandate, contained in CD/1299, carefully sets out the parameters for the discussion on scope which will need to occur in negotiations and would allow the widest possible range of actors to come, sit and talk at the negotiation table.

Paragraphs five and six of CD/1299, which address scope, are regularly scrutinised here. But I would also like to draw the Conference’s attention to the overlooked seventh (and penultimate) paragraph of CD/1299. This is what Ambassador Shannon wrote: “Delegations with strong views were able to join consensus so we could all move forward on this issue. This means that an ad hoc committee on cut-off can be established and negotiations can begin on this important topic. This has for some time been the common objective of all delegations of this Conference.”

This is a simple but elegantly worded set of statements: it is both a description of willingness in the Conference to reach a compromise to allow negotiations on a common objective and an expression of faith in the capacity of those in the Conference to reach further compromises through negotiations.

For those of us committed to ending irreversibly the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, it is worth reflecting on the sentiments underlying Ambassador Shannon’s words, particularly when we may be tempted to view issues, which should be the subject of negotiations, as obstacles in our way. If we are ever to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, recalling Ambassador Shannon’s words is the least we can do.

Thank you, Mr President.